Feb 2018 Illawarra Mercury

When Matilda Linturn, 1, was born a test immediately showed she was not able to hear as well as other children. But not having complete hearing loss meant there was limited support available to help her integrate with other children and become ready for school. The Shepherd Centre is one not-for-profit organisation that has developed programs to help children such as Tilly. In 2017 it sought ways to do more of that. It succeeded when IMB Bank gave it enough funding to help 28 families like the Linturn’s in NSW.

Andrew and Jane Linturn expressed how grateful they were to find such support for their fourth child after being referred by Australian Hearing. “The Shepherd Centre has been an amazing blessing to our family,” Mrs Linturn said. “It was a traumatic time at the start to find out our baby had a hearing loss. To find such supportive and encouraging staff was just so reassuring. We can’t speak highly enough of the Shepherd Centre. We are so thankful.” Senior audiologist Shellie Lavery said without that funding IMB Bank’s community foundation is providing some children such as Tilly who would fall through the cracks. “At the Shepherd Centre we are a charity organisation. Even though we do obtain some support from the NDIS we still really do depend on support from others such as IMB Bank to allow us to run all the programs we have,” Ms Lavery said. “The programs aim to give children who have hearing loss or a hearing impairment a chance to reach their full potential. Children who do not receive such support may not.”

IMB Bank is presently helping prepare more than two dozen children such as Tilly to be able to attend a mainstream school and participate in classes with other children. The Halfway Hear program helps children with partial hearing loss (unilateral or mild bilateral) and may be ineligible for government support. The Shepherd Centre applied for IMB Bank funding last year to provide early intervention support programs to partially deaf children and their families.

Matilda LinternPhilanthropic help: Andrew, Matilda (Tilly) and Jane Linturn with Shepherd Centre audiologist Shellie Lavery.

Halfway Hear provides education, assessments, therapy and support through an online training program and face-to-face sessions. The first part of the program is called Talk Together. Families can access the online training modules at home and or come into the Shepherd Centre where they can be assessed and benefit from audiology and other services from the team working there. Matilda has done both.  

Children with more significant hearing loss are generally able to access more funded services than those with mild hearing loss. “Our aim is to enable the child to hear as best they can and increase their chance of integration. We want to offer the service to everyone,” Ms Lavery said. The whole program has been designed so it can be done online because the Shepherd Centre knows there are many children in regional and remote areas who may find it hard getting to one of its five centres in NSW. Mrs Linturn said the program was good for her and her husband as well.

Five families come to the Shepherd Centre in Wollongong for the program and they quickly met other parents of children with a hearing loss.  “That was really encouraging. You don’t feel so isolated,” she said. “Tilly immediately then joined playgroup and music time which she absolutely loves. She always gets really involved in music. We bought her some instruments for Christmas because that is something she is passionate about. She just loves coming here. The girls are so lovely. The big thing you are concerned about when you have a child with unilateral hearing loss is how is it going to affect their life. It can effect their speech. And of course you don’t want your child to be bullied at school which can happen. So having that early intervention and the ability to develop her speech early we hope she will be able to go to school and just be like everybody else. That is our goal.”

Tilly is already starting to say her first words. The first one was “dad”.

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They are based in Western Australia and supported by Senses Australia.

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